Gaslight, the middle grade novel from Eloise Williams, is an absorbing fast paced story full of intrigue and adventure, set in Victorian Cardiff.
“My mother disappeared on the sixth of September, 1894. I was found at the docks in Cardiff, lying like a gutted fish at the water’s edge.”
I adore a great opening to a novel – one that launches you straight into the story, nothing held back. And that’s exactly what Eloise Williams does here, bringing her reader straight into the life of her protagonist, 14 year old Nansi Howells.
Nansi lives in the theatre under the close, watchful and not quite so discerning eye of Sid. Sid manages the theatre, and he manages Nansi. Whilst ducking and diving for Sid, playing bit parts on stage for the various acts he signs up, Nansi has her own important dreams. She’d love to be on the stage in her own right, but most importantly she’d love to find her mum.
“I shudder and tell myself sternly that she is alive. She is alive.”
However, with Sid controlling everything, both of those prospects are looking more and more unlikely for Nansi.
The narrative takes a darker turn when stage diva Violet Night comes on to the scene. All Sid can see his money, all Nansi can see is the darkness of Violet’s soul and the terrible, life threatening task she insists little Bee completes.
The narrative spins through an intriguing set of twists and turns (no spoilers here!), which see Nansi having to dig deep in order to survive. Through William’s narrative the reader gets a great sense of Nansi’s character, experiences the ups and downs with her, and most importantly is routing for her to succeed.
William’s depiction of Victorian Cardiff is incredibly evocative – from the mysterious backstage of the theatre to the docks of the city which swing between comforting and threatening,
“Even though I’m fourteen I already understand that life is complicated.”
Wow! A roller coaster of a ride, loved it!